E is for Equity (part 1)

I’m a new teacher.

I’m always looking for books to add to my library that support the inclusive, equitable and culturally responsive environment I strive to achieve in my classroom. This school year, I have been investing in books that celebrate diversity to ensure that all students see themselves reflected within the Kindergarten program. I have been in search of stories by BIPOC authors, stories that celebrate differences, and stories that share messages of inclusion to add to my collection. I decided to create an A-Z list of stories that I love. This list is far from exhaustive and there are MANY amazing books I could have added. The stories below from A-M are stories that were appropriate for my Kindergarten class, but could definitely be read to students beyond Kindergarten as well.

If you are a new teacher looking to begin your picture book collection, this one’s for you!

A – Alma and How She Got Her Name

By: Juana Martinez-Neal 

B – Black is a Rainbow Colour

By: Angela Joy

Illustrated by: Ekua Holmes

C -Bilal Cooks Daal

By: Aisha Saeed

Illustrated by: Anoosha Syed

D – Don’t Touch My Hair

By: Sharee Miller

E – Eyes That Kiss in the Corners

By: Joanna Ho

Illustrated by: Dung Ho

F – Forty-Seven Strings: Tessa’s Special Code

By: Becky Carey

Illustrated by: Bonnie Leick

G – The Gift of Ramadan

By: Rabiah York Lumbard

Illustrated by: Laura K. Horton

H – Hair Love

By: Matthew A. Cherry

Illustrated by: Vashti Harrison

I – I am Enough

By: Grace Byers

Illustrated by: Keturah A. Bobo

J – Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You

By: Sonia Sotomayor

Illustrated by: Rafael Lopez

K -Suki’s Kimono

By: Chieri Uegaki

Illustrated by: Stéphane Jorisch

L – Love Makes a Family

By: Sophie Beer

M – My Heart Fills with Happiness

By: Monique Gray Smith

Illustrated by: Julie Flett

…and in this corner

….weighing in at the size of that giant elephant in each of your classrooms.

Yup, with a sense of timing so impeccably ironic, that it is only achievable by elected officials, we are once again face to face with maskless learners and colleagues.

Oh the freedom!

This all despite numbers related COVID19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths) increasing across the province. Despite a strategic throttling of information from the current government and an ineptly duplicitous media incapable of calling out the “horse hockey” being shovelled at an unwitting public who is either happily oblivious learning how to live with COVID19 or now scrambling to avoid a negative patient outcome for someone in their life who is immuno-compromised.

Another struggle took centre stage the moment the masks were allowed to come off in Ontario. We are once again facing government sanctioned chaos when it comes to public health policy and education in our province and there are signs of  trouble in nearly every public school. #Onted via Twitter reveals numerous schools with growing numbers of COVID19 cases and exposures among their youngest learners. That means more absences (students and staff), more missed learning opportunities, and more uncertainty in schools/homes.

To no one’s surprise who has actually taught in a school over the past 2 years, students, teachers, and support staff  once again find themselves at greater risk of being exposed to COVID19 now that masking has become optional in public schools.*

Thankfully, at the school where I teach, the number of students and staff still choosing to mask up each day remains around 90%. Odd though how that figure corresponds to another public health statistic at 90%. Hint, it rhymes with vaccination rate. Hmm? Yet, that is not the case inside of many other schools and has the potential to be problematic on a number of fronts. I’ve seen this movie before and as I recall, it ain’t a comedy.

The removal of required masking, limited cohorting, mandatory hand sanitizing protocols, and social distancing have not provided me with the peace of mind that the return of such “freedoms” pretends to promise. So what is can a health conscious public educator do while they are now placed on the frontlines of learning to live with germ warfare?

Psst. Running away and hiding are not options.

The safest moves are to continue limiting our own exposure to potential infections by keeping our distance, masking at all times, sanitizing, and limiting our social interactions. Overcoming a global pandemic entering its 6th wave is going to take a little more time. We have gone through so much and have learned an equal amount about ourselves and others.

I can sense that students are still concerned about this too. I have noticed them still sanitizing their hands and trying to maintain their distances with students who have chosen to go maskless in class. Thankfully, I have not observed any social shunning as of yet which makes me hopeful that this will be the case in the general public when ideologies collide as legislated social expectations are gone. It is in this spirit of care and respect that I encourage you all to stay safe and strong as you continue to serve and shine in your classrooms.

* I was going to make a snappy comment about how private schools did not have  to remove their mask mandates while all public schools were ordered to do so, but I could not think of a good way to phrase it without the use of profanity.

The Power of “Thank You”

“Thank you”

2 simple words that mean so much. Especially when they are followed by a reason for giving thanks. 

As an educator of young children, I don’t teach for the “thank you”. I teach for the students, their progress, their laughs, their smiles, and that feeling of sharing a joy for learning. 

However, when I do get those genuine, ‘from the bottom of my heart’ “thank you” ’s, they often bring me to tears. Thank you can feel so reassuring, so comforting and can be a springboard that launches deep and powerful connections. 

An amazing colleague of mine, who is many years into their career, suggested I keep a journal of these kind words of thanks from parents and families. Initially, I thought this seemed silly. Why would I keep these notes and emails? What purpose would this serve me? But, I tried it anyways. Why not? If I didn’t find this practice helpful I could stop at any point and not tell a single soul I had ever done it. 

Fast forward to the present moment, where various letters, cards and printed emails from families live in the binder I stash at the back of my filing cabinet. I spread the word of this practice, as not a way to brag or boast but to share with you the feelings it has brought me.  

First of all, it brings me joy. What better reason to do anything? Why not document these joyful moments in celebration of student success.

Secondly, I find comfort revisiting these “thank you” ‘s when I feel tired, overwhelmed or broken down. It is easy for me to fixate on a lesson that didn’t go well, or the things that I could be doing differently; therefore doing them better. Flipping through this binder of positive thoughts allows me to reframe my mindset and reflect critically on my practice while being kind to myself.

Lastly, the powerful feelings that these “thank you” ‘s bring me are inspiring. I want to pass this feeling on to my colleagues, my students and their families who show up and work hard every day. I am mindful each day to share my genuine “thank you” ‘s out loud.

What is the most powerful “thank you” that you’ve ever received?

What is the most powerful “thank you” that you’ve ever given?

Everything I need to know, I learn in Kindergarten

In our virtual Kindergarten class, my DECE partner and I value each teachable moment. We recognize that our students are constantly making meaningful observations and connections to the world around them. Something I always expected to gain from these 4 and 5 year olds was knowledge. One thing I did not expect was how profound this knowledge would be, or that it could so deeply resonate with me and my pedagogy. 

Here is what my students teach me every day in Kindergarten:

Unconditional Acceptance

One of our students showed up to class one day and announced to the large group that from now on he would like to be called by his new nick name. “What’s your name now?” one of the other students asked. “Willy” he replied, “W-I-L-L-Y” *. 

From that moment on his classmates called him nothing but Willy. 

He requested to be called something different from what we’d all been calling him since the moment we met him in September and they immediately took action. They listened to him, understood him and respected his wishes. They didn’t ask questions, raise concerns or challenge him.

They just did it.

All of them.

The more I think about this, the more amazing it feels. I imagine a world where everyone can be respected like Willy and is addressed by their preferred names and pronouns. This demonstration of kindness and acceptance from children is exemplary.

Patience

It is not me that has learned patience from being their teacher, but me that has learned how to practice patience from them. My students are incredibly patient and kind to each other, to me, my teaching partner and all visitors that enter our class.

I have had entire conversations with my virtual class while my microphone is, in fact, off (cue face palm). They continue to smile at me and remind me to turn it on before I try again. 

They remind me to approach each day with a smile and that it’s okay to make mistakes.

Finding the “Why” 

“Why?”

A question our students ask often as they continue throughout their day as investigators, explorers and engineers. Each time they ask this simple but important question, it challenges me to think about my “why”. 

Why have I chosen to teach a lesson in this way? Why have I chosen to implement specific rules, boundaries or routines?

My students’ innocent question of “why” drives me to critically reflect on my practice. This ongoing reflection forces me to live outside of my comfort zone, try new things and make mistakes. Responding to the unique needs of of my students, allows me to demolish the ‘this is the way I’ve always done it’ mindset in order to celebrate individuality and strengthen inclusion in a world that is ever-changing. 

I’m lucky to be a small part of their journey, as my students continue through this school year and beyond. But, I don’t know if they’ll ever truly understand how much I learn from them.

 

* Students name was changed to protect confidentiality

Please note: ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that the daily, in-person model of instruction and support best meets the educational, developmental and social needs of students, provides the best experience for support, and is the most equitable learning model for all students.

ETFO’s expectation is that elementary virtual learning in any capacity, including through hybrid models of instruction, will end once the pandemic ends.

no cape required

Have you ever seen or heard this one? “I teach. What’s your superpower?” It’s on shirts, mugs, plaques and all sorts of other tchotchkes. I’ve heard it at conferences and keynotes too and it never fails to make me chuckle when I do because it seems like a humble brag even though it is true. To continue the candy coated clichés then, it comes as no surprise that each educator possesses super powers that they use everyday.

You know the ones I’m talking about. Pivoting (easy stomach) to emergency online learning with little to no notice, covering classes while losing prep after prep due to a lack of available occasional teachers due to illness or quarantine requirements, putting on a brave face for students and colleagues who are showing the signs of anxiety at the edge of a nervous breakdowns, and facing a barrage of unrealistic expectations from system leaders who are decades between the classroom and the boardroom. I guess the capes these superpowers come with are back ordered due to supply chain issues like our HEPA filtration units, school nurses, RAT tests, and consistent policy. 

Cape or no cape, I guess it’s not bragging when it’s backed up with actions because I know that it is happening in classrooms in Ontario and beyond on a daily basis. 3 weeks into the new year and the shift is coming to relax restrictions rather than enforce measures to protect the public. Each day another classroom is emptied while caretakers “sanitize” because another student departs with symptoms. Each day our front office team deals with 20% more calls and reports of COVID related absences of students. Each day we prepare to accommodate learners who have stayed home able to choose the hybrid option. Each day the struggle to see something positive in every situation becomes more difficult even for the most enlightened optimists among us. 

That is why, this post comes with its own irony, as I write this month, because it is taking all of my superpowers as an educator just to get through each day right now. I truly believe that it is not normal to wake up feeling restless or trudging home with little left in the emotional tank for family let alone friends or additional school work such as planning and assessment. It is taking every ounce of my superpowers to find the air and the serenity right now. Each exit from school at day’s end feels like emerging from underneath water to finally draw an overdue breath of air. 

The move to online and then back to the classroom this month with little to no regard to the wellbeing of students or educators is once again due to negligence and dereliction of responsibility by the current government. There’s nothing better than making sure families start the year wondering and witnessing ongoing acts of orchestrated distraction, unchecked number vomit news pressers, and photo ops provided confusion in the media for the public. These stage managed wretched events only amplified how an out of touch premier and his party of gaslighting grifters are able to go to inconvenience a province and its 2 000 000 students and make it sound like they are doing their jobs.

It is political performance art at its worst through a series of non-messages, announcements about announcements and off news cycle timing intended solely to keep everyone stuck to a web of distraction and uncertainty woven by political incompetence. It is also the kryptonite that weakens education and civil society at the expense of future generations who are only learning about their super powers in our classrooms. 

Thank you for reading and for sharing your superpowers. 

Please note: ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that the daily, in-person model of instruction and support best meets the educational, developmental and social needs of students, provides the best experience for support, and is the most equitable learning model for all students.

ETFO’s expectation is that elementary virtual learning in any capacity, including through hybrid models of instruction, will end once the pandemic ends.

Not the Same Christmas

As November comes to an end and we begin to approach the holiday season, excitement fills the air. Students are excited to share their plans for the winter break, talk about the gifts they hope to receive, the people they get to visit and the positive memories of holidays past. Of course, we want to join our students in their excitement. Whether or not we share this holiday with our students, it is great to see such happiness, excitement and smiles. As many students continue to count down the days until the break begins, I reflect upon the different reasons students may not all be experiencing the ‘same Christmas’ or holiday season this year.

Not all students are celebrating Christmas

The Christmas holiday is one that is ‘in your face’ each time you visit a store, watch television or scroll through social media between the months of October and January. We must remain culturally responsive to the diversity in our classrooms, in our community and in our world. Even if each of the students in your classroom celebrate the holiday of Christmas, it is important to make students aware that this is not a holiday celebrated by all. 

Students may be worried about being away from school

Many students (and educators) are excited to have a much deserved two week break from the busy hustle and bustle of school. Many are excited to reconnect with family and friends they haven’t seen in a while as they look forward to the love and happiness that will fill their homes. Conversely, many students may feel worry, anxiety or fear in anticipation of the two weeks away from the teachers and school staff who love them, care for them and make them feel safe. 

Some students will receive gifts – some will not

Be mindful of the conversations that happen surrounding gifts and elaborate holiday feasts. Some students will receive gifts and will be excited to share about their warm family traditions, while other students’ families struggle to put food on the table. As we continue to endure a global pandemic, some families struggle to survive. Many families continue to undergo financial stress, poverty, or have difficulty accessing in demand community resources that have been depleted due to COVID-19. 

Here is how I approach holidays in my classroom:

  1. Classroom materials reflect people of all cultural backgrounds so that students can see themselves reflected in the classroom community.
  2. I offer students opportunities to participate in discussing holidays and celebrations that are special to their family. Families in my class this year were invited to share traditions, stories, songs, dances, etc. via a virtual visit to our classroom.
  3. While inviting students and families to share about their holidays and celebrations – I never put anyone on the spot to share simply because they celebrate a specific holiday.
  4. Holidays are not a theme day. Children don’t learn about a holiday by colouring a picture or completing a word search.
  5. I continue to learn from my students, their families, my colleagues and through my own research about holidays and celebrations, their significance, accompanied traditions and the history behind them. Approaching holidays from a learner lens allows me to ensure I am including quality resources in my classroom and integrating the discussion of holidays into lessons while respecting all cultures and students.

Summer 2021

June 30th, 2021

So begins the summer of 2021 for many.

If you’re anything like me, you are absolutely ready for a screen break.

Typically during the summer months, I would enjoy binging my favourite television shows – but not this summer. This summer is dedicated to closing my laptop, signing off and getting outside. I asked my students during the last week of school to tell me 10 things they wanted to do this summer that did not include technology. They had great wishes for their summers including walks with pets, hopes for camping trips (even in the backyard), plans to eat ice cream, discover new hobbies and try new sports.

With the realization that we are heading back into the unknown in the fall, I have been reflecting on ways in which to personally enjoy my own summer and take a much needed break to refresh. I remind myself that come September I cannot ‘give’ from an ’empty bucket’ – something I preach but need to actively practice. My students enjoyed brainstorming their wishes for the summer so much, that I decided to take on this task myself.

Here are 10 ways I hope to rest, relax and recharge during my summer 2021:

  1. Go on a camping trip
  2. Practice outdoor yoga
  3. Donate gently used clothes to charity
  4. Practice my new hobby (playing the guitar)
  5. Support local restaurants/markets and businesses
  6. Walk in National Parks
  7. Go on a road trip
  8.  Have a picnic
  9. Bake lots of tasty treats
  10. Read a good book

What are 10 things you wish to do this summer?

I am wishing a happy, healthy and safe summer to all. I look forward to learning alongside all of you again this fall!

 

All the best,

Melissa

Advice from a 3rd Year OT

I’d like to start off by saying I am no expert but instead a teacher with a passion for connection in the classroom.

As this school year comes to a close, I reflect on the experiences I’ve had that continue to shape my practice. 

 

This year has been extremely challenging for all. As an Occasional teacher, I have found it incredibly difficult to connect with other Occasional teachers within school settings. I cherish the times I was able to connect with fellow OT’s, and the moments we shared talking through best practices, exchanging classroom management tips, and providing overall employee advice. 

Recently, I have had the opportunity to connect with some new Occasional teachers who are beginning their careers after recently graduating from the Faculty of Education. After sharing that I have been an OT for three years in two different school boards, it is without fail that I get asked the same question each time: What advice do you have to offer?

 

To those who may be wondering, here is my best summary of advice from a third year OT :

 

1. Connection over curriculum 

As you walk into any new classroom, always remember – you are walking into an extremely personal space. You are entering a community that has been established and continues to grow and change each day without you there. Being an OT is a great way to pick up practices that work for you and develop an understanding of practices that work for others. Being an OT is not a way to take control over this already existing system. To gain the respect of the students you must give respect to the students. This looks like greeting students at the door, asking them questions about their day, playing ‘get to know you’ games, taking brain breaks, offering help to students, and empathizing with students’ needs and challenges. Yes – classroom teachers will leave tasks and assignments for students, but the priority is always the students themselves. 

2. Kindness over ‘correctness’ 

As an elementary OT – you will almost daily hear “that’s not the way our teacher usually does ______”. This is not a personal attack, but coming from students who crave consistently and familiarity. My response to this is always “Things may be a little different today – and that is ok. I am going to do my best to learn all about your classroom and I am hoping you can help me”. Always choose kindness over being right. 

3. Ask questions – unapologetically 

Asking questions sounds easy enough until you feel like you’ve already asked your fair share. Anyone in a new job knows this feeling. The ‘oh no’ feeling you get when you have another question but you’ve already asked 3. I promise, it is okay not to know. No one expects you to go about your day seamlessly like a 10 year teacher. Ask questions to school staff and ask questions to the students. Here are some of the BEST questions to ask as an OT: 

For school staff

  • (Insert student name here) seems to be having a hard time today, what strategies can I use to support them?
  • What is the protocol for end of day/bus routines? 
  • Which students in the class would benefit from additional support today?

For students

  • What is your routine for (insert activity here)?
  • How can I support you today? How will I know when/if you need a break?

To all the new OT’s who are beginning their journey in September 2021 – you’ve got this.

Dear Students,

As an Occasional Teacher, I meet a lot of awesome students.

This school year, I have had the opportunity to teach in MANY schools (both virtually and in person) across two different school boards. I don’t get to wish each of those awesome students a farewell as this school year nears its last day. Some I may see in September, some I may see in the future as our paths align once again, and some I may never see again.

Here is what I would say to them all, if I could:

Dear students,

Thank you.

Thank you for making a school year filled with masks, shields and social distancing feel like community. Thank you for being your authentic selves and finding it within you to make jokes, be silly and have fun. Thank you for inspiring me to come to work every day, to keep learning, growing and wondering.

Thank you for showing me that connection is so powerful and that strong relationships have the potential to break through computer screens. Thank you for embodying resiliency, love, trust and understanding. It is you who have showed me that not knowing the answer is sometimes the most exciting avenue to take.

From you I have learned so much, but most importantly I have discovered that my learning will never stop. I used to view my experience as an occasional teacher as a means to an end. Upon beginning this journey in 2018, I thought being an OT was just something that had to be done. For me, this experience has been vital to beginning to develop my sense of identity as an educator. You have influenced me advocate for change within education, schools, communities and the world.

I wish you all the best as you continue your adventures.

Sincerely,

Miss Turnbull

“Healthy” Eating 101

The Ontario Health and Physical Education curriculum requires students in Grades 1-8 to learn about healthy and active living. The curriculum document stresses the importance of healthy eating and the relationship between healthy food choices and strength of the body and the brain’s preparedness to grow and learn. Sounds ideal right? 

Talking about the positive benefits of foods that are high in nutrients, vitamins or those classified as “healthy foods” must be done with extreme caution. Idealizing certain foods or food groups has the potential to demonize foods that don’t fit neatly into the “health” category. 

Seemingly innocent activities such as ‘colour in the healthy foods’ disregards the role and existence that “unhealthy” foods have in our world. Potato chips, french fries, chocolate, milkshakes – they are here (and they are awesome). Students need to hear that these foods are awesome, and they can be enjoyed and loved. Food is good for our bodies. Sharing food with people we love is good for our bodies – and essential for our mental health. 

How to avoid demonizing food or food groups:

  1. Refer to those above mentioned delicious foods as “sometimes” foods
  2. Talk about how food is not only a part of daily life, but culture, celebrations and traditions 
  3. Talk about the various ways in which people eat across different households and around the world 
  4. Talk about ingredients that are in food 
  5. Talk about how your body feels after eating food
  6. Talk with students about prices of food and why people may choose buying one food over another
  7. Talk with students about how to make food!
  8. And, when we are no longer teaching in a pandemic, make food! Share food together as a community. 

Disordered eating knows no boundaries. Eating disorders exist across all demographics of human beings. We don’t know every student’s relationship with food, nor do we know the relationship with food that our students see at home with their families. 

With love from a teacher who has personally struggled with her own relationship with food: Please, proceed with caution.

 

 

 

Ophea: Healthy Eating Resources https://teachingtools.ophea.net/activities/level-up/program-guide/healthy-eating

School Mental Health Ontario https://smho-smso.ca/

Canadian Mental Health Association https://ontario.cmha.ca/documents/understanding-and-finding-help-for-eating-disorders/